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From Chasing Down Russian Subs to Writing Intense Suspense: Meet D.B. Corey

D.B. Corey didn't begin writing until he was in his mid-50s, after a wealth of interesting life experiences including a stint in the military and a career in IT. He now writes high-action suspense/thrillers that keep readers on the edges of their seats with expertly crafted characters and stories loaded with surprise twists and turns. If you enjoy intense fiction, D.B.'s got the goods!

 

I met D.B. a few years ago at the Creatures, Crime, and Creativity conference, and we immediately hit it off. I appreciate his willingness to answer a few questions for us.

 

 

Your first novel, Chain of Evidence, was published in 2013. Two more books, The Lesser Sin and The Unforgivable Sin, have been published since. How has your approach to writing changed over the years?

 

 I'd like to say I keep my nose to the grindstone, write for hours on end, and have no social life. But I actually write when I feel like it. I guess that's why it takes me 18 months to write a novel. Self-publishing allows me to do that as there is no deadline, so to speak. I lean toward series writing now, though. When I finish the Hanna Braver series, I'm going to bring Moby Truax (in Chain of Evidence) back as a stand-alone series character, which differs greatly from writing a connected series of novels.

 

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The Lesser Sin and The Unforgivable Sin are the beginning of the Hanna Braver series. In both books, Hanna is a CIA sniper in conflict over her profession and her Catholic faith. Just who is Hanna Braver?

 

Yes—book 1 and book 2, with book 3 on the way. Hanna is a product of my imagination. I've always been intrigued with the anti-hero, vigilante justice; the hero that does the wrong things for the right reasons. What better reason is there to do the wrong things than when justice fails you and the ones you love suffer? I didn't want a demure housewife who was wronged and must learn weapons, Kung-Fu, tactics, etc., like in Peppermint or The Terminator, so I created Hanna Braver, a gal with eyes like a hawk who works as a sniper for the CIA. That was fine for external conflict, but I wanted some gut-wrenching internal conflict as well. So, I threw in a healthy dose of my wife Maggie, a devout Catholic. I ended up with a strong female protagonist who is a woman of faith that kills within the confines of war, but struggles with her steadfast beliefs when she decides to commit murder and avenge her dead sister, thus jeopardizing her immortal soul.


Are you planning another novel in your Hanna Braver series?

 

Oh yes. Three is the charm as they say.

 

 

Have you considered writing outside the suspense genre?

 

I think Chain of Evidence was suspense/police procedural, but I think the Braver series is more action-oriented with elements of suspense running through it. When I think of suspense, I think of Alfred Hitchcock. He said (and I paraphrase), "It's not the bomb that creates the suspense, it's the minutes leading up to the explosion." Truer words were never spoken. I have putted around with Twilight Zone type horror, though. I have several ideas I'd like to get to one of these days.  

 

 

Mickey Spillane, Dashiell Hammett, or Michael Connolly?

 

Spillane. I like his gritty characters, settings, and dialogue.

 

 

Have you written any short fiction?

 

I have. Several of them appeared in the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity (C3) anthologies and one in Insidious Assassins. Others are as yet unpublished.


After college, you joined the USNR flying aircrew aboard a Navy P-3 Orion chasing down Russian subs. How has your military experience impacted your writing career?

 

Hardly at all. I guess if I wrote military fiction, I would incorporate some of my experiences for authenticity.


A traditional publisher published your first novel, but you decided to self-publish after that. Why did you take that route?

 

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The ‘Thinking Person’s’ Horror and Suspense Fiction: Meet Greg F. Gifune

New York Times best-selling author Christopher Rice called him "the best writer of horror and thrillers at work today." Legendary author Ed Gorman said he was "among the finest dark suspense writers of our time." Greg F. Gifune has certainly earned an admirable reputation in the world of horror and suspense fiction.

 

Greg's novels, novellas, and short stories have been published all over the world and translated into several languages; received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus, and others; is consistently praised by readers and critics alike, and has garnered attention from Hollywood. His novels, among many others, include Savages, Babylon Terminal, God Machine, Midnight Solitaire, Midnight Gods, and Drago Descending.

 

Greg's novel The Bleeding Season, originally published in 2003, has been hailed as a classic in the horror genre and is considered by many readers to be one of the best horror/thriller novels of our times.

 

  

Greg, let's start with The Bleeding Season, probably your first novel to thrust you into the limelight. Delirium Books published the first edition. I believe a new edition was recently reissued by Journalstone. What has been your experience working with various publishers throughout your career?

 

Yes, The Bleeding Season put me on the map, and it's continued to be in print and sell all over the world for years now. It's considered a cult classic, and many, including Famous Monsters of Filmland, listed it as one of the great horror novels alongside King's IT and McCammon's Boy's Life, so I'm very proud of it. It's done very well in Russia and Germany, so it has a broad fan base and a readership that is rather rabid in supporting the book.

 

The new edition is a fifteen-year anniversary edition that one of my publishers, Journalstone, released in 2018 and features a new introduction from Ronald Malfi (Bone White) and a new afterword from Eric Shapiro (Red Dennis). I'm happy to be with Journalstone. They have much of my backlist of novels and I'm doing new projects with them as well, including a new novella I wrote with Sandy DeLuca called Blue Hell that'll be out in March and available everywhere.

 

I'm fortunate in that I work with many great publishers, and my experience over the years has been incredibly good. I've had a few bad situations, of course, but everyone that's been in the business more than ten or fifteen minutes has too. Overall, I think I've had good relationships with almost all the publishers I've worked with in what's been a twenty-year career so far. Generally, it's been positive.

 

 

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And what advice would you offer authors who want to develop strong relationships with publishers?

 

I'd say be patient. Patience has never particularly been one of my strong suits, but it's something I've learned to develop in dealing with publishers. You must be open-minded, particularly when you're starting out. If you're working with professionals, people who know what they're doing—and odds are, if they're in those positions and you're just starting, they know more than you do—go in with an open mind and listen to what they tell you. A good editor is invaluable. I don't care what level of experience you have, an excellent editor only helps and makes the work, and by extension you, better.

 

I've been on both sides of that desk. I've worked for publishers as an editor, running lines and in acquisitions. I've worked in that capacity with seasoned veterans and newcomers, and the best experiences are always those that work as a partnership. A good editor doesn't write the novel or try to tell you how to write it. He or she simply guides you, keeps you focused and on track, and helps bring out the best in your work.

 

You must also realize there's nothing magical about publishers. They have good days and bad days like anyone else. As long as a publisher is honest, that's the key. If a publisher tells you something, it should happen. If it can't happen or doesn't, they should be upfront about why, and you go from there. Communications is big, and that (or should) go both ways because, to develop strong relationships with publishers, it's a two-way street. There must be mutual respect, and the publisher must want to work with their authors as much as authors want that with them. So, be a writer they want to work with again, who cares about what you and they are doing, and who wants to team with the publisher to make the book as good and as successful as it can be.

 

Do you believe there is true evil in the world, an underlying darkness that is beyond our control, the engine that drives the world? The Bleeding Season certainly suggests that.

 

 

The short answer is yes. 'Believe' is probably the wrong word because I think belief requires faith, in a sense, and suggests it's open to debate. For me, it's not. Evil is one engine driving the world. On the other hand, I think good drives it as well. It's usually a matter of which stream you want to swim in.

 

The Bleeding Season explores and suggests that, and I think there's a real-world parallel. It's a very personal novel. While it's fiction, there's also a good deal of truth in it, and the essence of what I explore in that novel is real. There's a lot of truth in terms of human behavior and the evil in the world. Much of it ties to a past of mine I don't talk about much, where my life went in a different direction than it is now. There's a deep truth to that novel and I think that's one reason it resonates with so many readers, has for so many years, and continues to.

 

The Bleeding Season is a harrowing, cerebral novel heavy on psychology—a thinking person's horror novel. Savages, on the other hand, reminded me of a '70s B movie—gruesome and fun. They're very different books with distinct styles. It was as if different authors wrote them. When you begin a novel, do you intentionally explore new writing styles, or does it just come down to the subject matter?

 

I don't necessarily explore different styles (in a technical sense), as my style remains more or less the same from one work to another. But Savages is a departure from my other novels. I'm glad it reminded you of 70s B movies because that's what I was going for. The whole idea behind Savages was to write a salute to those great 70s and 80s B drive-in movies that I've always loved and were great fun. That was my tip of the hat to that sort of thing. I stepped outside of what I normally do, and I think you're right that if you read Savages and then any number of other novels I've written, you'll see a difference.

 

My other work, as you said, is more cerebral and psychological. Then there are my crime novels, and most of them are something else again. But in terms of style, it pretty much stays the same. I just alter things for what I'm trying to accomplish or get across. And that's really what Savages was about, so it had to be written like a pulp exploitation novel or it wouldn't have worked.

 

 

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A Powerful First Line is Essential!

Many editors will tell you that, when plowing through a slush pile of freelance submissions, they often never get past the first sentence of a story, much less the first paragraph. Writers may think this unfair, but an editor's instinct about a story is usually dead on -- if the first few lines of a story don't snare your attention, you're not likely to read further.

 

Compelling first lines are critical.

 

Consider the following examples of first lines from best-selling authors.

 

  • Everything, Sam Peebles decided later, was the fault of the god-damned acrobat. If the acrobat hadn't gotten drunk at exactly the wrong time, Sam never would have ended up in such trouble. ("The Library Policeman" by Stephen King)
     
  • Red Tongue Jurgis (we called him that because he ate red-hots all the time) stood under my window one cold October morning and yelled at the metal weathercock on top of our house. ("The Last Circus" by Ray Bradbury)
     
  • It was hell's season, and the air smelled of burning children. ("Gone South" by Robert McCammon)
     
  • On the night after the day she had stained the louvered window shutters of her new apartment on East 52nd Street, Beth saw a woman slowly and hideously knifed to death in the courtyard of her building. ("The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" by Harlan Ellison)
     
  • Barberio felt fine, despite the bullet. ("Son of Celluloid" by Clive Barker)

 

Well-written first lines engage the inquisitive human brain, pulling us into a story by appealing to our natural curiosity, appealing to our emotions, or ideally both. And very often brevity enhances those appeals. (Barker's six-word sentence, for example, begs many questions that urge you to read more.) First lines should raise questions in our minds, with the promise that the answers will be divulged if we continue reading the story. First lines should jumpstart the reader's imagination. The excellent writer understands the psychology of the reader and uses this knowledge to manipulate, entertain, and even educate the reader -- right out of the gate.

 

Consider the first sentence from Harlan Ellison's "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs." Ellison was inspired to write this short story after the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964; Genovese was stabbed repeatedly near her apartment in New York City, and the murder was witnessed by 38 of her neighbors who did not interfere with the killer, despite the woman's screams for help. Ellison starts the story with mention of a mundane chore (painting louvered window shutters), then counterpoints this with a knifing in Beth's courtyard. Subtle psychology going on here. In one sentence, Ellison has us hooked. What did Beth do? What happened next? Who was the slain woman? The murderer? How can you not read more?

 

If you are a fiction writer, spend a good deal of time tailoring the first sentence or two of your stories. Consider the questions you want in your reader's mind as the story begins, then write a lead that plants those questions -- and drive them to read more.

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Stand-Up and Comics and Horror, Oh My: Meet Jasper Bark

Jasper Bark has a problem staying out of trouble. Much to our entertainment, he's embraced this lifelong ambition to find trouble and use it as the content for his writing. His broad experience has given us incredible horror stories, comics, and even a children's "pop-up" book of Leonardo da Vinci's inventions. There's not much the man can't do, creatively speaking. Plus, he has a distinct, if somewhat warped, sense of humor. Interviewing him proved to be an adventure.

 

 

Let's start by dispelling a rumor. Do you really write in the nude?

 

Only when I'm trying to summon a Batrachian Daemon to spitball story ideas. But that has its drawbacks because those daemons are pretty possessive when it comes to their ideas, and there's nothing worse than being taken to court for plagiarism in a hell dimension. I mean, jeez, their legal system, talk about Kafkaesque.

 

Plus, as I'm constantly explaining to my wife, and the Mailman, technically it's not nudity if I'm dripping in Yak's blood.

 

You once performed (and maybe you still do) stand-up poetry. How did that happen? And did stand-up comedy have anything to do with it?

Did comedy have anything to do with it? I guess that would depend on how drunk my audiences were.

 

I have worked as both a stand-up and a performance poet over the years. Stand-up gigs pay much better than poetry gigs. At one point I combined the two, so I could cover twice the number of venues with the same set. Hence stand-up poetry.

 

I began stand-up when I was 15 years old. There weren't any comedy clubs in the North of England where I lived, which was very blue-collar. In those days, the comedy clubs were all down in the south of the UK, which was much richer. So, I played Working Men's Clubs, which had cheap beer and blue comedians. I used to skip school and hitchhike to the venues. Technically I was way too young to be in any of those places, but they let me in for some reason. I think it was because I looked about 12, had a potty mouth, and the customers found it hilarious.

 

I left school at 16, which you could do in the UK back in the '80s, and, having no qualifications and no other trade, I led a hand-to-mouth/gig-to-gig existence as a stand-up and actor throughout my late teens and twenties, eventually making quite a few 'blink and you'll miss me' appearances on TV. It was the closest I could get to running away to join the circus.

 

Some of your fiction runs to erotic horror, with a side of dark humor. Is this an intentional recipe (erotic fiction + horror with a dash of humor) or one that just comes naturally to you?I think it's a little of both. Comedy, horror, and erotica are closely connected in a number of ways. First, they tend to be dismissed, or looked down on, by mainstream literature, so they're interesting places to do something subversive. Second, they're genres that want a specific reaction from their audience. At a basic level, they all involve building tension and then releasing it. For comedy the release is a laugh, for horror it's a scream and with erotica it's … y'know … I've always viewed horror as a particularly dark form of humor. It's a jet-black school of comedy where the laugh freezes in the throat and becomes a scream. Then again, most comedy involves people in awful and embarrassing situations too. We laugh as a way of distancing ourselves from their predicament because, if we didn't, we might shudder instead.

 

Horror is also an extremely stimulating and exciting genre, it gets the heart racing in the same way that a piece of really good erotica might. Think how much your heart races watching a slasher movie, and how much it races the first time you take someone to bed. There's always been a subconscious link between Thanatos (the death drive) and Eros. That's why, with the right person, horror films are surprisingly good date movies.

 

I love the visceral nature of all three genres. I love the fact that they provoke a reaction in the audience. I don't just want to make the reader think. I want you to laugh out loud in some passages. I want you to put the book down and jump on your lover, in others, and occasionally I want to make you lose your lunch. So that's why I tend to mix them up. I don't just want you to put down one of my books and say: "hmm, well, that was nice."

 

Your novel The Final Cut is about two filmmakers who are forced to watch a snuff film. The plot is a mix of crime, horror, and urban fantasy. I'm curious. How did you research this one?

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